by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
December 25, 2014
1989 INVASION OF PANAMA PUSHED 'DEMOCRACY' AT GUNPOINT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- A few weeks ago, I wrote about the autumn of 1989 and my memories of a miraculous time when we witnessed the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
At the same time we watched Berliners joyously take sledgehammers to the Berlin Wall, I remember the face of President George H.W. Bush, and how bewildered he looked when the Wall came down.
The Cold War was about to end, and he and other Cold Warriors were suddenly deprived of the main reason that our nation stayed on war footing from the day the surrender papers were signed by the Japanese on the deck of USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, to that wonderful night in Berlin 45 years later.
We hoped that maybe this was the moment that the swords would start being beat into ploughshares and that maybe the most blood-soaked century in human history would end with peace.
And then, a bit over a month after the Berlin Wall was razed, we had a new war.
On the morning of Dec. 20, 1989, U.S. forces invaded Panama. Tens of thousands of soldiers poured into that nation to oust Manuel Noriega, the leader that the U.S. had installed about a decade earlier, for alleged drug trafficking.
It was a lovely war for the United States. Only a handful of U.S. soldiers were killed, while about 500 Panamanian soldiers and thousands of Panamanian civilians died in what was called Operation Just Cause.
Almost forgotten today, overshadowed by subsequent events, it can be argued that the Panama invasion was the table-setter for the transition from the Cold War era to the current era of perpetual war.
'You can't begin to fully grathe slippery slope of American militarism in the post-9/11 era - how unilateral, preemptory 'regime change' became an acceptable foreign policy option, how 'democracy promotion' became a staple of defense strategy, and how war became a branded public spectacle - without understanding Panama," wrote historian Greg Grandin this week for TomDispatch.com.
The invasion of Panama was a unilateral action, not sanctioned by either the United Nations or the Organization of American States. The irony, Grandin notes, was that the collapse of the Berlin Wall emboldened the United States to assume the role of the "last superpower," and be able to project its power without being checked by the Soviet Union.
The justification for the invasion, bringing "democracy" to Panama, set the template for subsequent U.S. interventions around the globe over the past 25 years. The idea that previously governed international relations - national sovereignty - was swept away in = Panama.
Because the Panama invasion was quick, relatively painless, and victorious, it became, Grandin wrote, an intervention where all the wrong lessons were learned. The Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 only reinforced those wrong lessons"
"The road to Baghdad, in other words, ran through Panama City. It was President George H.W. Bush's invasion of that small, poor country 25 years ago that inaugurated the age of preemptive unilateralism, using 'democracy' and 'freedom' as both justifications for war and a branding opportunity. Later, after 9/11, when President George W. Bush insisted that the ideal of national sovereignty was a thing of the past, when he said nothing - certainly not the opinion of the international community - could stand in the way of the 'great mission' of the United States to 'extend the benefits of freedom across the globe,' all he was doing was throwing more fuel on the 'wildfire' sparked by his father. A wildfire some in = Panama likened to a 'little Hiroshima.'"
The current age of American triumphalism was born on the streets of Panama City, in a one-sided "war" against a one-time ally.
On this yuletide, 25 years after the Panamanian invasion, the United States still has soldiers in Afghanistan. It is poised to again have a sizable contingent of troops in Iraq. It is still rattling sabers at Russia, this time over Ukraine. And the nation that overthrew 41 governments in Latin America between 1898 and 1994 is still trying to spread "democracy" around the world at gunpoint.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.